Big Thinkers, Wine, Lithium and the Perils of Social Change

The catalyst was a book launch of Lithium’s chief scientist Dr. Michael Wu.   The location was the Prospect Restaurant in San Francisco’s trendy south of Market.  Invited was a veritable ‘whos who’ of social media bloggers and big thinkers.

Walking to dinner after flying in from Austin, TX and being up since 2am, I thought this could be a great experience or one very long night if the room was full of people talking about social marketing tactics. I was hoping for the former as I wanted to share my experiences around the Buyers’ Journey with others.

Meeting Michael Wu was a real treat because he is super smart and super nice.  The private dining room was packed with 40 other social Big Thinkers:  Deloitte, Ant’s Eye View, Altimeter Group, Alcatel-Lucent, Paul Greenberg, Edelman Digital, Tom Foremski, Gartner, to name a few because I can’t remember the rest.  See Pics here.  It was a dinner of social leaders; who carries business cards when you only need to remember everyone’s Twitter handle?  Fortunately Lithium created a Twitter list because after the wine the memory of all the Twitter handles faded rapidly.

What hasn’t faded is the memory of the astonishing conversations.  What’s been on my mind for the past several months is the growing hype around transforming into a social business.  Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of becoming social. I hear CEOs and CMOs talk about ‘going social’ and having a relationship with their customers to serve them better.  Yet when I dig into those claims, the investments being made don’t match up.   To many the mindset of ‘going social’ is to add a few social media channels (the infamous three), start a community and have customer service/support respond to Tweets about product issues.   That view is one of social being an ‘add-on’ to existing daily workloads versus an ‘instead-of’.

My conversations around the cultural and business model changes that social transformation forces on companies was met with silence.  I had been quietly thinking I had 3 heads and 2 were on fire and people were just being polite about it, afraid to point out the oddity.  It was puzzling how companies could possibly imagine their operating model and principles unchanged by the effects of social technology.  With the buyer in control of everything from how they buy to the terms of the ‘customer relationship’ and a brand’s reputation, how could business models not change.   Why was the need for social change management, I call it “Social Change”, apparent only to me?

Or so I thought until the Lithium Big Thinkers dinner.   Every discussion, all night long, was around Social Change.    The need for business leaders to embrace the far-reaching changes that social will trigger was on everyone’s mind.  And it had this room of luminaries worried for they saw the same resistance as I do; an enamourment with the technology and a deaf ear to the accompanying change it naturally forces in culture, values, collaboration, communication, business processes and models.  I was thrilled to meet consultants and bloggers who specialized in social culture, social business change management, and redefining customer engagement.  In the midst of all these ideas and methods, the Buyers’ Journey was at home and fit nicely into the broader puzzle of transformation.

It was reassuring to hear others share the concern around Social Change. I can’t say we solved the problem on how to quickly enlighten business leaders on what lies ahead of them.  There is , thankfully, a growing chorus of credible voices drawing attention to the fact that – social business is a transformation that will touch every molecule in your organization.   Be wise and be prepared.  Or said another way, if you thought SOX compliance was transformative, “honey you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”.

BTW, the book is titled “The Science of Social” and a must read.

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